McDonald's Misses Estimates by a Penny, Sees Tough First Quarter

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McDonald's

(MCD) - Get Report

said this morning earnings for the latest fourth quarter just missed Wall Street's consensus estimate, as the company's results in Europe were hurt by concerns about "mad cow" disease.

The company's stock was lately down $1.25, or 3.8%, to $31.63.

The Oak Brook, Ill., fast food company said earnings for the quarter came in at $452 million, or 34 cents a share, compared with $486.2 million, or 35 cents a share, in the same period one year earlier. According to

First Call/Thomson Finanical

, 17 analysts expected McDonald's to earn 35 cents a share in the quarter.

The hamburger maker also said systemwide sales, which represent sales by company-operated, franchised and affiliated restaurants, including Chipotle Mexican Grill and Donatos Pizza, came to $9.92 billion, up from $9.75 billion a year ago.

Systemwide sales in the U.S., McDonald's largest market, rose 3% to $4.82 billion in the fourth quarter, up from $4.68 billion in the same period one year ago. Sales in Europe, the company's second-largest market, fell 10% to $2.21 billion from $2.45 billion one year ago, and sales in the Asia-Pacific region rose 3% to $1.75 billion from $1.70 billion a year ago.

McDonald's expects earnings in 2001, excluding the impact of foreign currency translation, of $1.60 to $1.65 a share in constant dollars. If exchange rates stay where they are, the company expects foreign currency to lower reported 2001 earnings per share by about a penny. The company also said "we expect the first quarter to be very challenging, due to outstanding results and an extra trading day in 2000, and continuing consumer confidence issues about European beef." Analysts expect the company to earn $1.63 in 2001.